"Parks & Rec" Is Better Than "The Office." Here's Why.
Parks & Rec OR The Office?
Ah yes, one of the biggest debates among half-hour network sitcom lovers, one that I’m sure has divided spouses, broken friendships, and cemented party lines.
Okay, not really. But for those of us who love these shows, it is a topic of conversation.
Both “Parks & Recreation” and “The Office (U.S.)” are half-hour, mockumentary style sitcoms that aired on NBC. They both featured ensemble casts of characters who worked together, had some star power behind them, and have gathered even bigger followings since they ended (and can now be found on Netflix for endless streaming).
In both cases, my boyfriend, Luke, convinced me to start watching (and also pleaded with me to make it past the first season because he promised it would get better (which it did)). And now both shows are in our rotation of what-we-turn-on-when-we-get-home-from-workalong with “Friends” and, for a hot sec while it was on Netflix, “30 Rock” (series that I like to call “background shows”).
Like many couples, I’m sure, Luke and I fall on different sides — he’s an “Office” guy; I’m a “Parks” girl. This doesn’t really matter in our relationship, except when we come to a finale and must start a new background show. Often before I can get a word in, the theme song for “The Office” and those familiar shots of Scranton, PA, begin to play.
Now look, I like “The Office” as much as any person. It’s very funny, there are jokes that always make me laugh, and I love watching the evolution of the characters. But “Parks and Recreation” is better. It just is.
While both shows suffered from lackluster, shortened first seasons, “Parks and Rec” found its footing (unlike Leslie on the edge of the Pit) and, in my humble opinion, soared past “The Office.”
This comes down to a fundamental difference between the two shows — whereas “The Office” is solidly rooted in reality, “Parks and Rec” exists in a slightly absurd, parallel world to our own. It’s a world where citizens get riled up at local town meetings, one of the smallest divisions of government can actually make a difference, and a tiny horse brings everyone together.
Whereas “Parks and Rec” has an all-around sunny disposition, “The Office” is so true to life that sometimes the characters and the situations they find themselves in actually make you sad. It’s disheartening to watch Michael realize that Jan already had the baby. Instead of laughing when Michael tells everyone he has Bruce Springsteen tickets or realizes he can’t keep his promise to Scott’s Tots, I want to curl under a blanket and hide. It’s awkward and oh so real.
“Parks and Rec” also never dilly-dallied or spent too much time lingering in certain storylines (Yes, I’m talking about the will-they/won’t-they Jim and Pam storyline. I mean, come on!). All seven of its waffle-loving seasons were tight — no meandering along aimlessly until the writers found a new way to move the plot forward a bit. Like a lot of the best shows currently airing, “Parks and Rec” burned through storylines in a single episode that would have taken “The Office” at least half a season. You only need to notice just how long it actually took for them to get around to the original downsizing problem presented in the pilot to see what I mean.
Then consider the main characters: Leslie Knope and Michael Scott. The fact that “Parks and Rec” is better than “The Office” has nothing to do with whether its main characters are male or female. It has to do entirely with personality.
The fact that Leslie has a goal makes her a far more enjoyable character to follow than Michael. That goal is verybroad at times, but she is a driven, optimistic person by nature, and would be no matter if she worked for the Pawnee government or Dunder Mifflin. Lovable as Michael is, it can be hard to watch his lack of intelligence get in his way, not to mention how cringe-worthy it is to see how his colleagues deal with his tone-deafness. Both Leslie and Michael are underdogs, yes, but Leslie tries harder than Michael, which is ultimately why it’s more fun to watch her journey. She’s easier to root for.
Unlike in “The Office,” each character in “Parks” has his or her own arc throughout the series. Chris learns to cope with mental illness and becomes a father. April finds a career she loves. Tom grows as a businessman, friend, and co-worker. Even Jerry/Gary/Larry/Terry has a complete arc that starts with him just trying to make it to retirement, to happily running the town.
As a whole, the characters in “Parks and Rec” more clearly represent ideas, values, and universal traits than those in “The Office.” Just think about Tom’s presentation in the finale — are you a Ron, Leslie, Ben, Donna, April, Andy, or Tom? (Doesn’t matter… all that’s important is that you don’t want to be a Jerry. Or do you?) Whereas if I were posed the question, “Are you a Stanley, Meredith, or Toby?” I would have little idea what their characters are all about. As a viewer, that’s important — just think about how many times you’ve wondered if you’re more of a Chandler or a Phoebe.
While each episode of “The Office” has its own pranks, hijinks, and sticky situations — who could forget the “fire drill,” the dinner party, or Threat Level Midnight? — there is no guarantee that the storylines you’re watching will lead to any deeper meaning or life lesson. Each episode of “Parks and Rec” on the other hand, always has a point.
At their cores, I believe “Parks and Recreation” and “The Office” are different shows. It’s really difficult to choose a favorite because, despite their many similarities, the core of each show is completely different. “The Office” is grounded in comedy; “Parks and Rec” is rooted in story. No one is quantifiable better than the other.
That said… I’m still a self-proclaimed Pawnee Goddess.
‘Lil Sebastian forever.
None of the photos in this post are my own.